When Positivity Isn’t Positive

When Positivity Isn’t Positive

by Dr. Katie daCruz, PhD

Social media is full of uplifting quotes and phrases that are meant to inspire positivity about our lives. Although this “positive vibes” content is likely meant to be helpful, it can have unintended negative consequences and lead to the very suffering it aims to address. This fact is sometimes referred to as ‘toxic positivity’.

Positivity is ‘toxic’ when it results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the full range of our emotional experience, which includes difficult emotions. The truth is that we will all experience pain, failure, loss, or disappointment at times in life. There are times we are going to feel depressed, anxious, fearful, or lonely. And sometimes life is really hard. It’s common and understandable to want to avoid these negative and uncomfortable emotions. But if you’re regularly forcing a positive outlook on yourself when your feelings are the opposite, it can take a toll on your mental health. When trying to be positive is used to silence certain feelings, we fall into a state of denial and repressed emotions which is not helpful for our mental health. That is because hiding or denying feelings leads to more stress on the body and/or increased difficulty avoiding those distressing thoughts and feelings.

Below are some common expressions and experiences of toxic positivity to help you recognize how it can be seen in everyday life.

  1. Hiding/Masking your true feelings

  2. Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing down or dismissing an emotion(s)

  3. Feeling guilty or embarrassed for feeling what you feel

  4. Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements

  5. Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience

  6. Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity.

True happiness doesn’t come from hiding from our negative emotions when we feel them, but rather from leaning into what we’re truly feeling and accepting any emotion, either positive or negative.  If you’d like to learn more about this idea, consider working with a therapist. Contact us at (734) 323-4897 or info@galvingrowthgroup.com for more information.

Katie is a G3 Limited License Psychologist & Contributing Writer.

Image credit: @toxicpositivitymemes